Anchorage Schools Make Strides in Fight Against Obesity
Public health officials are calling obesity the biggest health threat we will face this century.
ANCHORAGE - Fewer local school kids are overweight or obese.
According to an eight-year study by both the state and the Anchorage School District, the percentage of overweight students has dropped from 38 percent to 36 percent. The district has gone from nearly four in ten overweight or obese kids to just over three in ten, but the work is far from over.
Focused on producing healthier students, for the past eight years the Anchorage School District has literally cut the fat out of schools. It's banned junk food and sodas and made physical education classes longer. Public health officials say these efforts to lower obesity are starting to make a difference.
“We think all of these things helped and they are certainly coincidental with seeing the improvement,” said Dr. Ward Hurlburt, the state’s Chief Medical Officer. But he said the fight is far from over because outside of school, there are still many influences that can lead to severe health problems.
“Americans, on the average, drink about 50 gallons a year of sugar sweetened beverages,” Hurlburt said. “That's like big oil drum of North Slope oil.”
Jordis Clark, a nurse at Sand Lake Elementary School, said many diseases caused by obesity struck silently.
“You can't see the effects of obesity,” she said. “It’s high blood pressure, it’s type 2 diabetes, it’s the risk for heart disease and those are things you can’t see until they’re already there.”
Doctors said in the long run, our kids will pay the price.
“It's costly in terms of dollars, it’s costly in terms of life,” Hurlburt said. Parents can help by checking their children's Body Mass Index (BMI) and by encouraging them to be active.
“It’s get out and play 60 minutes every day, that's the closest thing we've got to a silver bullet for this obesity epidemic right now,” said Karol Fink, the state’s obesity prevention manager. The experts say it's the simple things, which means parents can actually do the activities with their kids so the habits are learned young.
“Park away from the entrance and take a little bit of a walk: Every hundred steps is a hundred steps you may not have taken otherwise,” Clark said.
She said thinking beyond the norm creates solutions to make sure our kids can live long, healthy lives. The state looks at BMI on a population level: Health officials recommend you use it on an individual level and take in other indicators, like nutrition and physical activity, to determine your kid's health status. Public health officials say everyone should know his or her BMI just as we know our height, weight and blood pressure.